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Saturday, March 28, 2020

5 people who will decide the outcome of Super Bowl LIV

Patrick Mahomes

Super Bowl LIV will feature a unique matchup between two teams with very different styles and approaches. On one hand, you have the electrifying Kansas City Chiefs, who appear capable of scoring at will against just about anyone. On the other hand, you have the mix-it-up San Francisco 49ers, who are able to adapt to any opponent, situation or scenario, while being carried by a swarming defense.

Old school vs. new school. Philosophies of teams past vs. philosophies of teams present. Do defenses still win championships or have times in the NFL truly changed?

It’s an intriguing matchup for casual fans and analytics nerds (like myself) alike. And with that in mind, here’s a quick look at five coaches/players who will decide the outcome of the Super Bowl.

5. Nick Bosa, DE, San Francisco 49ers

Nick Bosa is already a game-changing superstar as a rookie, but he’ll face his toughest challenge yet when trying to chase around Patrick Mahomes. Just how athletic is Bosa? Just how fundamentally sound is his play? Can he be patient enough to avoid straying from his assignments? All of those questions will be asked and answered during the Super Bowl, and will go a long way in deciding the NFL’s next champion. If Bosa is able to bring down Mahomes whenever he gets in the vicinity of the quarterback, it will free up his defensive teammates and take off some of the pressure. If not, it puts the San Fran defense in a difficult spot.

4. Chris Jones, DT, Kansas City Chiefs

With all the talk about the San Francisco defense, Chris Jones may somehow fly under the radar over the next two weeks. But come Super Bowl Sunday, the Chiefs will need their defensive stud to have the best game of his career against a 49ers offensive line that has completely mauled its opponents in recent weeks. It’s likely Jones lines up over the top of left guard Laken Tomlinson, and that matchup will go a long way in determining the flow of the game. If Jones, who is dealing with a calf injury, can get the most out of his defensive reps and disrupt both the run and the pass by collapsing the pocket, it will put a strain on quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and force Kyle Shanahan to potentially change the team’s offensive approach on the fly.

3. K’Waun Williams, CB, San Francisco 49ers

K’Waun Williams is going to be a big name over the next week given that he will likely be tasked with stopping Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill whenever he lines up in the slot — which he does on a majority of his offensive snaps. The 5-foot-9, 185-pound Williams is known as a stud tackler, but that may be the least of his concerns when trying to combat the speed and shiftiness of Hill. Williams has done a tremendous job shutting down the big play all season, but Hill may prove to be the perfect counterbalance to that. Few players in the NFL are as electric as Hill, so the matchup between him and Williams could, very legitimately, turn out to be what decides the game.

2. Robert Saleh, DC, San Francisco 49ers

The Chiefs are an offensive powerhouse and arguable one of the most dominant juggernauts since “The Greatest Show on Turf.” However, as the saying goes, defense wins championship. If that’s true, the onus falls on 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh to prove that old adage. He’s gotten the most out of his swarming defense so far during these playoffs, but the Chiefs are an entirely different animal. Saleh is going to have to channel the likes of Bill Belichick in devising an all-time gameplan if he wishes to cement himself and his team in NFL lore for the remainder of history. The good news for San Francisco? Saleh has the mind, and his players have the talent, to get that done.

1. Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs

Was there any doubt who was going to top this list? Aside from Lamar Jackson, there is no other player in the NFL who is as game-changing and dynamic as Patrick Mahomes, and the argument could be made that he stands alone at the top. With both his arm and his feet, Mahomes is capable of taking over a game and completely destroying whatever defensive gameplan was in place. You can bet San Francisco is going to throw a whole bunch of new looks at him while also feverishly trying to get pass rushers into his face, hoping to throw him off and possibly create a mistake or two. Can Mahomes weather that storm? If he can, the 24-year-old will be in line for his first championship.

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